Monday, March 14, 2011

Thoughts on Exhibition, The Wyeths- America's Artists

For those of you who are local, and aren't aware of it, the Kalamazoo Institute of Art is hosting an exhibition of Wyeth paintings through April 17th.  Visit the KIA website for details including docent talks and lecture of Farnsworth Museum Curator, Michael Komanecky on April 14th.

I left my daughter at the door of a manga workshop hosted by the KIA, paid, and wandered into the Wyeth galleries.  I have read a few biographies of N.C.Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth, and one about the whole Wyeth family, so I'm familiar with the background lore.  At various points in my life I have gravitated toward the work of one or another of the Wyeths.  This time, it was definitely Jamie Wyeth's work which struck me.  There were 2 pieces by Henriette Wyeth Hurd that were also very striking.  I would like to see more.  I felt a great sympathy with her work.

I went through the Andrew Wyeth room fairly quickly.  I was fortunate enough to see the Helga Exhibit years ago when I lived in Maine, which is so breathtaking that after that - any smaller collection of mixed works is less exciting.  Of the featured Andrew pieces, I found Alvaro and Christina ( 1968, watercolor), to be the height of the spine-tingling quality that his work gives me.  He paints a section of a barren room where the spirits of the brother and sister linger in the objects.  There are other remarkable pieces on display, but I want to move along...

The N.C. Wyeth room hosts a good assortment of his work.  There are a number of paintings of landscapes and houses with grandiose skies on coastal Maine, as well as a couple of portraits.  There are also some of his illustration pieces, many of which were much larger than I thought they'd be.  He's such a muscular painter- robust.  I liked the strong house "portraits' the best.  It was fun seeing his bold style of working with value changes in the illustrative pieces.

For me the big surprise was Jamie Wyeth.  I have seen his work in show catalogs and various places, but in person, they were incredible.   For one thing, the subjects are interesting.  They have the gritty-Wyeth touch but without the colorless, spine-tingling eeriness (dare I call it creepiness?) that haunts Andrew Wyeth's work.  I have great regard for the profundity Andrew Wyeth's work, but it gives off a mood I wouldn't want to live with.  Jamie's subjects are sun-soaked or wind-weathered, thoroughly drenched in northeastern states of being.  He is one with his subjects, as his father, but with a sense of emotional freedom.

The richness of the paintings hit me in the gut when I walked into the room.  That's why I'm obsessed....that's why I love this work.....that indescribable feeling of having the wind knocked out of me in the presence of Good Art.   Many of Jamie Wyeth's paintings are painted on large panels.  This is putting to rest something I have been wrestling with myself.   I think I'm developing a strong preference for painting on panel.  It shows off my confidence and bravura,  and I won't be rushing around re stretching canvas pieces.  Jamie's underpainting makes the surface image glow, and I was reminded of Odd Nerdrum in that Jamie instinctively knows where to put what tone in order to unify sections of the painting and separate it from others.  I'd be hard-pressed to name a favorite, but I suppose on many levels, I'd chose: Screen Door to the Sea.  Like all good art, you have to see it in person.  No computer screen or book image can show the power and luminosity of the real thing.

The overwhelming feeling I had was- paint with courage.  When the tools are inside you, don't be afraid to step out and use them!  Don't be afraid of critics. Don't be afraid of the paint.  When you feel like you're flying when you're painting, it'll show.

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